The esteemed Dr. Kenneth Wagner, who has spent his professional life dealing with the problems of lakes and ponds in Massachusetts including extensive work in Berkshire County, was right on target as he concluded a talk Saturday, Sept. 6 to the Lakes and Ponds Association of Western Massachusetts at a symposium the organization sponsored at Berkshire Community College. Its subject was the care and treatment of lakes, and Wagner focused on lakes Onota and Pontoosuc.
In recent years, invasive weed problems have plagued both. The city of Pittsfield, the Lake Onota Protective Association and the Parks Department have responded with efforts to bring the problems under control with the guidance of Dr. Wagner as a consultant. To the credit of Pittsfield city government and citizen lake associations, the effort to restore health to Pontoosuc and Onota Lakes is well along. That work must continue.
"Gardens, landscapes, lakes, are all vulnerable to nature and development," Wagner said. "Those threats do not have clear endings. We can do five-year plansŠ20-year plans; they help but vigilance is the price of preserving these resources. That means that the prevention of invasive species is a never-ending task."
Dr. Wagner concluded "Lakes are like gardens -- they need constant attention. "Weeds reproduce. You have to pull them out before they drop seeds."
Wagner might just as well have used the city for his reference to gardens and weeds. Pittsfield, in fact, is a garden, and as a garden city officials and residents must pay constant attention to the areas of housing, recreation, education, economic development and downtown offerings.
Despite the expense of time and money, Pittsfield must restore its own health and achieve a new identity. That process is now out of its infancy, but it has required the development of new thinking following the years of economic domination by General Electric, which shrunk its presence substantially in the late 1980s when I joined The Eagle as its business editor.
The GE presence essentially meant Pittsfield, for many years, had a major employer that sustained its economy. Accordingly, the city’s citizenry did not have to think in economic terms because GE guaranteed its survival. Abruptly, that changed on my watch as a journalist and, in later years, as an entrepreneur who sold single rowing shells and started a not-for-profit rowing club following my retirement from The Eagle in 1995.
In the post-GE years, city officials and economic development agencies accomplished spadework and provided fertilizer to the earth the city occupies. The various plant species have grown, including small plastics companies; the downtown, Berkshire Community College, the restoration of the Colonial Theatre, and the improvement of its recreational resources that include the two lakes within its borders.
I have been privileged to be part of that garden’s growth because the city’s Park Commission was and continues to be instrumental in helping me undertake a citizen’s rowing program at Burbank Park that has attracted tourists, including guests at Canyon Ranch, one of our clients. Someday, I predict, one of those rowing tourists will locate a company in Pittsfield.
There has been talk of instituting a rowing program at the city’s schools. I hope it happens; I learned to row in school; I am now 80 and still row daily. Rowing teaches teamwork and discipline, qualities that benefit its participants for their entire lives.
The city’s lakes are a major part of the Pittsfield garden that also includes the flowers of theater, parks, schools, the Berkshire Athenaeum, downtown North Street, the Beacon and the Colonial theaters, Berkshire Community College, and many other initiatives undertaken by such gardeners as the Chamber of Commerce and the Berkshire Plastics Network. Another such group is BRASS, the not-for-profit Berkshire Rowing and Sculling Society that I was instrumental in founding, thanks to donations from about 75 citizens, banks and companies and the availability of the dilapidated former beach house that we converted into a boathouse, with the help of the vocational education program at Taconic High School. Together, along with other initiatives, they and we have all made Pittsfield an exciting community, and, in fact, a garden that promises beauty as well as a fruitful harvest.
These initiatives must continue, as the city cannot rest on its accomplishments in achieving a post-GE recovery. Instead, the city’s garden must continue to meet the challenges of financial commitment that its post-GE environment requires. Unfortunately creating such an environment requires the fertilizer of tax dollar investments in amounts that will continue to grow in the next few years before they become a host of blooming flowers and other plant species.
Yes, Dr. Wagner was on the mark in his comparison of the Pittsfield lakes to "gardens that require constant care." His remarks, however, also apply to housing, recreation, education, economic development and downtown offerings. Keeping the weeds away requires the taxes that enable the city to become a garden that produces the flowers of educational facilities, parks, lakes, businesses, theater, music and recreation.
No one enjoys paying taxes. However, easing their burden requires convincing ourselves that in writing those checks we indeed have transformed ourselves into gardeners who grow flowers.
Lewis C. Cuyler is the retired business editor of The Berkshire Eagle.